Checking Systems Health

Checking Systems Health


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


One way of looking at evaluating fundraising program health is to evaluate four of the underlying systems that serve as components:

  • Marketing systems that bring new donors to the table;
  • Renewal and Upgrade systems that bring donors to the $250 gift level;
  • Annual Giving Leader systems that bring $250 donors to the $1,000 gift level and beyond;
  • Major Gift Development systems bring Annual Giving Leaders to the point where they are interested in making a significant investment in a specific program, project, or outcome.


(The actual process is not as linear as this implies and donors often bounce around between the various levels, but it does serve as a useful visualization.)

The first questions to ask are about existence. Do you have these systems? Or is your experience more ad-hoc? If you have systems, are they well understood by everyone involved? Are they strategic and intentional? Or are you doing things the same way each year without questioning them? Because that’s the way you’ve always done them?


Marketing Systems

Marketing systems should not be confused with outreach. (That’s one of the reasons I resist combining fund development and outreach in committee structures and job descriptions.) Marketing implies a call to action. Become a member. Give today. Are your systems sufficient to match attrition? Are they sufficient to grow? How do they compare against each other? Direct mail versus events for example. Or crowdfunding versus member-get-a-member campaigns. Evaluation here implies that when a new member joins, you know how they were recruited – Source Codes!

What about long term? When new people respond to different marketing strategies, do they renew and upgrade at the same levels? How do their five-year values compare? Do we really know what is working long term? How about how it might be changing?


Renewal and Upgrade Systems

The basic idea here is to ask donors to renew and to ask them to increase their giving each year. Last year you gave $50 – THANK YOU! We are asking everyone to consider a gift of $100 this year.

The base metric here is renewal rate, but what about renewal rates for first renewals versus everyone else? And how might they be changing over time? Can you influence them? Would adding a reminder letter help? How far apart should the letters be? How about a phone call?

Are our donors increasing their gifts over time? What are we trying? What’s working? And are we creating problems – donors who stop giving because our asking is too aggressive? What can we do about that? How many new donors are we bringing to the $250 giving level each year? What would it need to be to meet our goals? What is our attrition? What could we possibly do differently to improve these result? What have we tried?


Annual Giving Leader Systems

Annual Giving Leaders are donors who are beginning to give at the $1,000 and more. Ideally, these gifts are still left unrestricted, and ideally, the annual renewal is still assumed. This is where Donor Circles are useful as a strategic extension of the membership concept. With a few notable and always appreciated exceptions, donors rarely jump to $1,000 as their first gift. So, we need a system for recognizing when they might be ready. One such system tracks what they are giving and notices when they start giving $250.

Do we track when donors begin to give $250? Do we notice? How and when do we ask for $1,000? What’s our track record? Can we influence the outcome? What about our Board members? Are they leading? Or watching and hoping? What could we possibly do differently to improve our results? What have we tried?

There is arguably a practical limit to what most donors are willing to give and leave unrestricted. That limit is probably $25,000 right now. So, the next few questions are about upgrading beyond $1,000. What are we trying? What’s working? And are we creating problems – donors who stop giving because our asking is too aggressive? What can we do about that? What is our success rate in bringing new donors to the $2,500 or $5,000 (or $10,000 or even $25,000) giving levels each year? What would it need to be to meet our goals? What could we possibly do differently to improve this result? What have we tried?


Major Gift Development Systems

The system here is to intentionally engage with a short list of donors who have the capacity to make extraordinary gifts toward a specific program, project or outcome. The scale of the program, project, or outcome will determine the magnitude of gifts we will be seeking, but the process is the same. Not everyone wants to be cultivated for giving, so the system would need to include identifying potential, qualifying their interest, matchmaking interest with projects, and actually soliciting. Organizing this system is the primary purpose of the January Donor Planning Meeting each year.

What is the scale at which we need to work to meet our goals? Are we regularly identifying new donor interest? How are we qualifying their interest and who is involved? Are we consistently applying a systems approach? Are the Board members involved? Are we working effectively as a team? What’s working? What’s not?


So how is your organizational fundraising health? All systems GO?



Cheers, and have a great week!




Photo by Natalia Kollegova from Pixabay


Share this!
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.